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"Volantis is the oldest, the first colony of Valyria. After the Doom, the Volantenes tried to rebuild the empire under their rule. They failed. Not least because the last Valyrian with dragons, Aegon Targaryen, entered the war against them. Now they are content to dominate only their lower classes, or so they say."
―Ser Jorah Mormont, discussing the Free Cities[src]
Longbridge

The massive Long Bridge of Volantis, across the Rhoyne River, filled with multiple levels of buildings and markets.

Volantis is one of the Free Cities located to the east of Westeros. The southern-most and oldest of the Free Cities, it lies on the southern coast of Essos, where the mighty Rhoyne River meets the Summer Sea. It was founded as a colony of Valyria many centuries ago and is a great port.[1]

People from Volantis are known as Volantene.

HistoryEdit

Volantis was the first of the Free Cities founded by the Valyrian Freehold in western Essos. Four centuries ago, Valyria was destroyed in a single day by a massive volcanic cataclysm known as the Doom, and the empire fractured. Without central leadership, Valyria's surviving colonies were torn apart in a period of chaotic civil wars known as the Century of Blood. As the oldest and most populous of the Free Cities, Volantis attempted to conquer the other remaining colonies and rebuild the Freehold under its own rule. It failed when all of the other Free Cities united against Volantis. The only thing that could unite all of the other Free Cities was their determination not to be forcefully united under the rule of the Volantenes. However, the deciding factor was that the young Aegon I Targaryen, possessor of the last three Valyrian dragons in the world, entered the conflict on the side of Volantis' enemies. Volantis' armies were shattered, and no further grand attempts were made to unite all of the Free Cities into a new Valyrian empire.[2]

In the present day, Volantis remains one of the more powerful of the Free Cities, and has the largest population of any of them.

Recent EventsEdit

Season 1Edit

The wineseller in the market at Vaes Dothrak boasts of his fine wine from Volantis, the Arbor and Dorne.[3]

Season 2Edit

Following the Battle of Oxcross, Robb Stark meets Talisa, a healer from Volantis. Robb remarks that she is a long way from home.[4]

Robb and Talisa later discuss why she became a healer. She reveals that during a three-year summer, her little brother nearly drowned in the Rhoyne and was saved by a slave.[5]

Season 3Edit

In King's Landing, when Podrick Payne takes longer than she would like to fetch her a plate of figs, Olenna Tyrell sarcastically asks, "Where did you go for them, Volantis?"[6]

In the east at Slaver's Bay, when the Second Sons sellsword company are encamped outside of Yunkai, their commander Mero settles a question among the three head officers by taking out some coins he has on him - one from Meereen, one from Volantis, and one from Braavos - and having each of the them pick one at random.[7]

Season 4Edit

Tywin Lannister says that one of the blacksmiths that melted down and reforged Ned Stark's sword Ice was from Volantis.[8]

Season 5Edit

After Tyrion Lannister flees to Pentos, he is convinced by Varys to journey with him to Meereen to meet Daenerys Targaryen. As they ride through the fields out of Pentos in a large horse-drawn wheelhouse, Varys explains that they are heading to Volantis first, where they will board a ship that will take them the rest of the way to Meereen.[9]

Tyrion and Varys arrive at Volantis, and Tyrion insists on finally taking a break from weeks trapped in the wheelhouse to refresh himself in the vast city. They walk through the crowded markets on the massive Long Bridge, and note the city's vast slave population, their faces tattooed to identify their ocupations. As they make their way through a market they spot a Red Priestess preaching to a crowd of slaves, who catches Tyrion's eye as he stops to listen to her sermon. She preaches that the Lord of Light has sent them a savior, the "Dragon Queen" - Daenerys Targaryen, who has been waging a campaign against slavery in Meereen. Tyrion remarks sardonically on her sermon to Varys - but unnaturally, despite being on the other side of the market space she seems to hear him, and meets Tyrion's gaze with an angry glare. Unnerved, Tyrion tells Varys they should continue on to find a brothel, where he can drink and find a prostitute.

In the brothel, they see that one of the prostitutes is dressed up in a Daenerys costume for the amusement of her clients. Varys quips to Tyrion that a woman who inspires both priests and whores is worth taking seriously. Unknown to Tyrion and Varys, the exiled Ser Jorah Mormont happens to be in the same brothel drowning his sorrows, and takes notice of them both. Tyrion leaves Varys to chat with the whore Clea, but he is still so distraught about killing Shae that he doesn't really think he has the spirit to have sex with her. He excuses himself to take a piss - urinating off the bridge into the Rhoyne River itself - and while he is alone Jorah ambushes him and takes him prisoner.[10] Jorah then steals a fishing boat and leaves Volantis with the captive Tyrion, heading to Meereen to present him to Daenerys.[11]

Season 6Edit

From the Meereenese prostitute Vala, Tyrion Lannister and Varys learn that Volantis along with the Ghiscari cities of Astapor and Yunkai are secretly funding the Sons of the Harpy, an insurgent organization opposed to Daenerys Targaryen and dedicated to restoring slavery. Tyrion gets Varys to send his spy network to open contact with the leaders of Volantis and the other cities.[12] The Volantene envoy Belicho Paenymion is part of the joint diplomatic mission send to negotiate with Tyrion and his advisors. In the end, the two parties reach a compromise solution. They agree to abolish slavery over a seven-year period and to compensate all slave owners.[13]

Following the peace agreement, Tyrion hires Kinvara, the High Priestess of the Red Temple at Volantis, to get the Red Priestesses to preach that Dany is The Prince That Was Promised.[14] Later, Yara and Theon Greyjoy flee to Volantis following their uncle Euron's election to the Salt Throne. There they plan to meet Daenerys Targaryen in Meereen and with her help, reclaim their home, the Iron Islands.[15]

Later, Volantis, Astapor, and Yunkai decide to break their peace treaty with Meereen. They launch a naval bombardment of the city which coincides with Dany's return to the city on her dragon Drogon.[16] Dany meets with Belicho, Razdal mo Eraz, and Yezzan zo Qaggaz for a parley. Believing they have won, the slave masters demand that Dany and Tyrion surrender Missandei, Grey Worm, and the Unsullied and her three dragons to be slaughtered. However, she rejects their terms and orders Drogon, Viserion, and Rhaegal to burn the slaving cities' fleet. Grey Worm then executes Belicho and Razdal after they try to save themselves by offering up Yezzan to be slaughtered.[17]

GeographyEdit

Volantis

Map showing the location of Volantis on the continent of Essos.

Volantis is the southernmost of the Free Cities, on the south coast of Essos - on the opposite side of the region from Braavos, which is located on the north coast (of the western end of Essos). It is also a substantial distance away from Pentos to the northwest, on the coast of the Narrow Sea, which is loosely about halfway between Braavos and Volantis. The Disputed Lands are located west of Volantis, site of endemic warfare between Myr and Lys, which Volantis sometimes gets dragged into. To the northeast of Volantis is the Dothraki Sea, putting it in danger of passing raids. The Valyrian Peninsula is southeast of Volantis, mostly abandoned and avoided since the Doom of Valyria.

As the southeastern-most of the Free Cities, Volantis is the closest of them to Slaver's Bay, which is on the other side of the Valyrian Peninsula, and the city is a gateway for travelers between the two regions. The overland route between the two regions is very dangerous and therefore little used. Instead, trade and travel between Volantis and Slaver's Bay is commonly done by sea, with ships sailing far around Valyria (careful to avoid the Smoking Sea in the middle of the shattered peninsula).[9]

Locations in the cityEdit

The harbor metropolis lies on both sides of one of the many mouths of the Rhoyne. The wide and mighty river is spanned by a great megastructure known as the Long Bridge.[18] The bridge is so large that it is covered in rows of multi-level buildings, taverns, brothels, and marketplaces, forming a small neighborhood of the city unto itself.[10]

The severed hands of criminals are hung on public display along the Long Bridge, along with signs declaring their crimes.[10]

GovernmentEdit

Volantis is ruled by three elected Triarchs. Only members of aristocratic families who can trace their lineage back to Old Valyria are eligible to be candidates.[20]

CultureEdit

The old aristocratic families of Volantis consider themselves to be the heirs to the legacy of the fallen Valyrian Freehold, given that it was the first of the Free Cities founded by Valyria, though they are not descendants of dragonlords but of the lowborn soldiers that made up the population of the early settlement.[21] The other Free Cities don't agree, however, and have long resisted Volantene attempts to dominate the rest of them.[22]

The Volantene ruling elites pride themselves on their cultural refinement, feeling this is a sign of their continuity with the high society of Old Valyria. The Volantene aristocracy look down on Westeros (which was a chaotic backwater during the ages of Valyria's height), regarding them as unrefined, "grim, stinking barbarians".[23]

Underneath the Volantene aristocracy, the city has a massive population of slaves. In Volantis, it is death for a slave to touch a noble (unless commanded).[24] The slave-masters in Volantis have a very organized system for identifying their slaves, giving them small tattoos on the left cheek of their faces that symbolize what tasks they are assigned to do:

  • A fish - for slaves that work on a fishing vessel.[25]
  • A fly - for dung shovelers[10]
  • Crossed hammers - for builders[10]
  • A tear (stylized as a downwards-pointing triangle) - for whores[10]
  • A circle within a circle[10] - (Although unmentioned when one appeared on-screen, in the novels, a circular tattoo of a wheel is given to slaves who are cart-drivers)

Volantis welcomes a mixture of religions, but by far the largest is that of the Lord of Light, which has a very large temple in the city.[1] The Lord of Light religion is very popular among the large slave population, as the Red Priests say that the Lord hears the prayers of all men, rich and poor, king or slave.[10]

Notable VolantenesEdit

Behind the scenesEdit

The famous Roman bridge of Córdoba in Spain was used as a stand-in for the Long Bridge of Volantis - though the real bridge was then augmented with CGI to make it look proportionately larger and to add buildings and markets atop it, as the Long Bridge is described in the novels.

The wide-shots of Volantis in Season 5's "High Sparrow" won the 2016 Video Effects Society Award for Outstanding Created Environment in an Episode, Commercial or Real-Time Project.[26]

According to the Season 5 Blu-ray commentary, the visual appearance of the Long Bridge was "loosely based" on the (much smaller) covered bridge in the Fenghuang Ancient Town of Hunan province, China, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Fenghuang County. Meanwhile, the look of the crowded markets and timber dwellings on the bridge itself were based on old Shanghai.[27]

Also explained in the Blu-ray commentary, Season 5 featured so many new sets that there physically wasn't enough time or budget left for the production crew to construct a new fully designed set for Volantis (particularly because it only appears in one episode, which didn't justify the time and expense of making an entirely new set). Not wanting to lose the scenes set there, they managed to make the Volantis sets by artfully repurposing other old sets from different parts of the TV series. Every single door, window, and shutter had previously been used as something else, and it became something of a game for the cast and crew to try to guess what each item had originally been used for. The main set was repurposed from the Moat Cailin set from Season 4 - which was itself repurposed from the original set built for Harrenhal in Season 2. The interior set for the brothel that Tyrion, Varys, and Jorah visit is simply a redressing of the brothel from Mole's Town used in Season 4.[28] If you look closely, the production team didn't have the time and resources to design and produce an entirely new set of costumes for the crowds seen in Volantis (in contrast to the unique clothing styles in Braavos and Pentos). Instead they appear to be wearing a mixture of costumes from other locations, particularly Meereen and the Vale of Arryn, slightly recut or worn differently to make them look a little more distinct.

In "High Sparrow", Tyrion and Varys pass the severed hands of criminals hung up on public display with signs stating their crimes (which is a detail from the novels); one or two signs are High Valyrian words written in Common Tongue/Roman alphabet spelling, i.e. "qringaomio" = "evildoer" in High Valyrian. A few other signs are visible in the background of some shots from that episode with what appears to be foreign scripts on some of the signs, but David J. Peterson confirmed that these are not in Valyrian script, or any real script at all: they are just set dressing that the art department put together and contain no sensible/translatable messages.[29]

In the booksEdit

In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, Volantis (sometimes called Old Volantis) is the oldest, largest, and the most populous of the Free Cities, but also the most corrupt. Its vast, crescent-shaped harbor could contain the entirety of Braavos within it. The city is located on the mouth of the Rhoyne River, which spills into the Summer Sea through a large delta, with four mouths. Volantis lies on both sides of the easternmost mouth of the river.

Volantis is divided in two halves by the Rhoyne. The western side of the city is open to foreigners, traders, and merchants. The eastern side contains the inner city, which is protected by the 200-foot-tall Black Walls. The Black Walls are wide enough for six four-horse chariots to ride along its top abreast. Slaves, foreigners and freedmen are not permitted within the Black Walls. The main waterway is bridged by the Long Bridge, a structure so large it can take hours to cross if traffic is very heavy.

Volantis is known as the Firstborn of Valyria. Of the colony-states that eventually became the Free Cities, Volantis maintained the closest ties to Valyria and carried on its traditions the most stringently. Immediately after the Doom of Valyria four centuries ago, the rulers of Volantis tried to subdue all of the other Free Cities and forge a new Valyrian empire, resulting in a decades-long series of chaotic wars known as the Century of Blood. Volantis managed to conquer and control their fellow cities of Lys and Myr for two generations.

After a hundred years of warfare, Volantis was on the verge of also conquering Tyrosh. At this point they petitioned the Targaryens on Dragonstone to help them with the aid of their dragons but the young Aegon I Targaryen refused, and instead sided with Volantis's enemies. Volantis had overreached in its offensive against Tyrosh, and now a great alliance formed against them. Braavos and Pentos joined the war on Tyrosh's side, and also supported successful uprisings in Lys and Myr. Aegon Targaryen also joined the alliance with his young dragons, gaining them valuable battle experience. Even the king of the Stormlands in Westeros joined the alliance against Volantis. Faced with so many enemies, Volantis was defeated.

At the same time, Volantis had overextended itself even further in attempts to expand eastwards, which similarly collapsed. An entire fleet sent to reclaim Old Valyria became lost in the Smoking Sea - a fleet which was already badly needed in the losing struggle against the coalition of their enemies in the west. Moreover, no longer restrained by the power of the Valyrians and their dragons, the Dothraki mounted hordes began overrunning all of the lands east of the Rhoyne: due to its eastern location Volantis was particularly hard hit. In the north, Qohorik fireships broke Volantis' attempts to control the entire Rhoyne river network, restricting Volantis' influence to south of the ruins of Chroyane.

The Century of Blood left Volantis bankrupt and in chaos. Traders, merchants, and more moderate leaders took control of the city and have effectively ruled it ever since. Meanwhile, the coalition against Volantis soon collapsed as Lys and Myr turned into bitter enemies, struggling over the central border territories which had frequently changed hands during the course of the war. Lys and Myr have continued to fight over these territories over the past three hundred years until the present day (broken up by the occasional truce).

Volantis is still a freehold, like Valyria before it. All freeborn landholders - including women - are entitled to vote in elections to choose the rulers of the city. Three freeholders - the triarchs - rule for a period of one year, during which time they travel everywhere by elephant, as their feet are not allowed to touch the ground. The triarchs must come from noble families that can prove an unbroken line of descent from Valyria. The traders and other moderate factions call themselves the "elephants", while those who favor military expansion are known as "tigers". The tigers have been out of favor for the three hundred years since the Century of Blood, never holding more than one position in the triumvirate. Women can run for triarch, but in practice the last female triarch was elected three centuries ago - her name was Trianna, who was elected four times, and one of the leading members of the elephant party when they swept the tigers out of power in new elections at the end of the Century of Blood. Only one out of every six people in Volantis is freeborn, and not all freeborn persons are landholders with the right to vote - though by comparison, in real life under the initial Constitution of 1789 the United States was a "democracy" but also had landholding requirements for voting, which were only gradually abolished one state at a time until 1856; slavery also wasn't abolished until 1865, and women did not universally gain the right to vote until 1920. The United Kingdom only abolished all property requirements for voting in 1918, and granted full voting rights to women in 1928.

Volantis remains the center of the slave trade in the Free Cities, and maintains sea and land links with Slaver's Bay hundreds of miles to the east. There are five slaves in Volantis for each free man, a ratio surpassing even that of the cities in Slaver's Bay itself. Volantis prefers a policy of neutrality and getting rich on its slave trading, but its location on the south-eastern edge of the Disputed Lands sees it sometimes drawn into warfare with Lys, Myr, and Tyrosh for control of the region.

Slaves in Volantis are identified with facial tattoos, a detail which was included in the TV series. In the TV version they are depicted as uniformly on slaves' left cheeks, and usually not much bigger than a thumb print. In the novels, however, slave tattoos in Volantis are very large, in some cases covering both cheeks or even most of the head (this would probably have been impractical to adapt in the TV series, requiring a disproportionate amount of time and resources for crowd shots). The TV version does emphasize that the tattoo is a uniform and dehumanizing stamp - larger ones might have given the false visual impression that they were artistic tattoos. A few other slave categories were identified in the books: those with flame tattoos on their cheeks work for the massive Temple of the Lord of Light in Volantis; a trade cog tattoo is for slave sailors; squares of motley are for jesters and fools; a horsehead is for slaves who work in stables (distinct from dung-shovelers who clean the city streets); tiger stripes indicate slave-soldiers. Slave-prostitutes actually have a single tear beneath their right eye - there is no mention in the novels that it is stylized as a downwards-pointed triangle as in the TV version (though this does make them much more readily identifiable in the visual medium of television).

In the fifth novel, Volantis is the only of the nine Free Cities who join forces with the Wise Masters of Yunkai against Daenerys. The Yunkai lord Grazdan mo Eraz travels there, and manages to persuade the Triarchs to join the coalition that Yunkai has formed with other slaver cities against Daenerys, by offering bribes (chests of gold and jems and prostitutes of both genders) and spreading false horror stories about her. The High Priest Benerro preaches that Volantis must take sides with Daenerys, but he is in minority.

By the point the books reached, a large Volantene fleet, between 300 - 500 dromonds (according to Victarion's estimation), is on its way to reinforce the Yunkai troops that besiege Meereen.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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